High quality boards moved carefully
8 March 2016
For the semi-automatic order-picking of high quality chipboards Kronospan Schweiz AG relies on the order-picking platform EZK 35, with Vacumat, with one or two additional functions by Hubtex and Rohrer-Marti AG for positioning, replace with aligning and replace with securing.
Chianti Oak, Oak Classic or Swiss Elm: When wood materials bear such names, extreme caution is advised when order-picking. The product names used by Kronospan Schweiz AG stand for high quality, true to nature decors with embossed texture which recreates the grain of natural wood. They can hardly be distinguished from real wood and are aimed at a demanding public – this means that even more importance must be attached to careful transport to avoid scratches right from the start.
Customer-friendly individual order-picking
Against this background, the store managers of Kronospan Schweiz AG began searching for a suitable order-picking solution for the production centre in Menznau in the hinterland of Lucerne as early as 2013. A wide variety of decorative wood materials in thicknesses of between 8 and 50 mm are stored in the equipment hall there on 920 shelves. The boards with dimensions of 2,800 x 2,070 mm weigh between 30 and 278 kg. About 100 orders are picked per day here in a two-shift operation.
Every order received by 16:00 is sent out on the next working day, and the customers can even order single boards. “Within the Swiss Krono Group, we are the only centre which offers the specialist trade outlets customer-friendly individual order-picking”, stresses Jürg Meier, who works for Kronospan as the commercial director. The number of items in the order is generally between 1 and 24, which means that approximately 21,000 picks are carried out per annum.
High quality surfaces
Individual order-picking presented a major challenge, particularly in view of the high quality surfaces. “Sliding the boards down from the stack is hardly possible without scratches and it is unreasonable to expect the employees to lift them manually”, summarises project manager Michael Hofstetter, who works at Kronospan as a technical clerk. Moreover, the board stacks formed for each order must line up exactly so that when transported by truck or train no damage occurs. With these requirements, Kronospan Schweiz AG turned to several solution providers and considered fully and semi-automatic approaches. “The fully automatic solution was soon excluded for reasons of cost, particularly as we wanted to retain the existing support arm frame”, Michael Hofstetter remembers.
At the end of the selection phase in February 2014, Rohrer-Marti AG and Hubtex were able to penetrate the market with a vacuum lifting device using the order-picking platform EZK 35. “Hubtex and Rohrer-Marti, as the only suppliers, were willing to adapt their existing product with new solutions to our special requirements and the prevailing spatial conditions”, says Jürg Meier.
Actually, the EZK 35 platform has been considerably expanded for Kronospan Schweiz AG. The order-picking platform delivered in July 2015, therefore, has automatic shelf positioning and devices, which are currently unique, for centring and tying the boards to the truck. Unlike previously, the entire process is now carried out by a single order-picker who no longer needs to leave the EZK 35 for this. “The collaboration with Hubtex and Rohrer-Marti went smoothly and was extremely constructive from the first project idea to the finished platform”, says project leader Michael Hofstetter in its praise.
The order-picking process begins with the input of the four-digit storage position which is on the delivery note together with the quantity ordered. Whilst the first digit defines the aisle number, the next two digits indicate the storage rack and the fourth digit the shelf level. The order-picker records the four digits on the large touch panel of the operating platform. The operator then navigates directly and with precision to their target. During this process, the barcode strips applied to the shelf aisles play a central role. Each centimetre of a shelf aisle corresponds to a barcode which is recorded by the reading devices installed at chassis height during the run. If, during the run, the reading device finds the barcode of the desired storage rack, the operator – guided by a graphic display on the touch panel – goes to the correct shelf level with their joystick so that they can begin the removal process from there.
The Vacumat, with its lifting and blowing off the boards, now comes into operation. A total of eight bellows suction cups snugly fit onto the board so that they are able to suck on the board and raise it precisely onto the order-picking platform. “Each order pick is protected at the bottom and top, as in a sandwich, by a base board which the order-picker inserts by means of the Vacumat at the beginning and end of each order”, explains Hofstetter. If there is dust or other contamination on one of the boards this can be removed by means of the integrated blow-off device by the press of a button.
Time saving functionality
As soon as the board has been deposited on the platform, the moving columns installed at the corners take over the centring process. In this way, the stacks placed precisely one on top of the other are formed layer by layer with a maximum tolerance of 8 mm, thus enabling Hubtex to meet another requirement of Kronospan. After the last order item has been processed, the operator positions the upper base board in the same way and immediately begins the strapping. “For this, the order-picker needs neither to leave the vehicle nor alter the present vertical position, which saves a lot of time for us”, of which Hofstetter is convinced.
In order to make optimum use of the confined space on the device, the complete work basket is moved semi-automatically to the right in the direction of travel before strapping so that the operator is able to move comfortably and without risk in front of the stack. The roll of PET strapping is suspended ready to grip on a rail and can be pushed to the typing position by the order-picker without effort. It is there that the end of the strap is threaded into the guide opening provided, then pulled around the entire stack or the individual pick by means of the compressed air motor.
Here, too, the designers have considered an innovation in terms of the lower return of the strapping. If there are several order picks on the platform it must be possible to tie them individually. For this purpose, an automatic device was installed on the opposite side of the strap input to allow running at every possible height of the order-picks and guarantee the return of the strap. All that the order-picker then has to do is to weld the strap ends with a hand device and run the order now finished to the handover point. To also save time in this case a new stack of boards can be picked up with the vehicle immediately after handover of the picked order in the same support arm frame in which a centring device built separately for the vehicle is located on the lowest position and stored in the compartment provided for this purpose.
Ergonomic one-man operation
The four colleagues working alternately on the device have quickly got used to the new working process. “After three days the learning phase was completed”, confirms Hofstetter. In future, further employees will be recruited and trained to use the order-picking platform so that they will be better prepared for absences due to illness and holidays.
Conclusion: Since July 2015, no contact order-picking has been carried out at Kronospan Schweiz AG on the basis of the individually designed individual solution, guaranteeing flawless delivery of the high quality boards. Kronospan Schweiz AG will continue be able to offer customer-orientated individual order-picking in the future with maximum delivery quality – and at much greater efficiency in the ergonomic one-man operation.